Adam Scott may be the first and last person to win the Masters using a tall putter.
This spring, the USGA and R&A, which make the rules of golf, are likely to ban long putters that can be anchored to your body the way Scott kept his putter stuck against his chest.
In the golf world, this is a very controversial ruling. It could fracture the rules, and screw up the game.
Long putters have won four of the last six major championships. Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship, Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open, and Ernie Els won the 2012 Open Championship. All three used belly putters, which are putters with longer shafts that stick in your stomach.
By affixing the putter to your body, part of the stroke is eliminated. In moments of stress it takes some nerves and some pressure out of the putt.
Luke Donald, who uses a short putter, said of anchored putting, “It’s an advantage for someone who struggles on the green. Managing anxiety and nerves down the stretch is an important part of golf. And I think that takes it out of your hands a little bit.”
The USGA and R&A proposed the ban last fall. They then went on a listening tour afterwards, hearing objections to rule change from people in the game.
Prior to the banning proposal, Els said, “Nothing should be anchored to your body and I still believe that,” but, “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”
After the ban was proposed he was against the rule change, claiming there was no evidence that belly putters really help.
A lot of people have made the claim that there is no data to prove anchored putters work. If they were a magic elixir, then everyone would use them, they say.
But, to prove anchoring makes a huge difference, the ruling bodies would probably have to single out someone like Adam Scott who struggled with his putting before he switched to the tall putter. The ruling bodies don’t want to single people out.
Instead, they’ve shifted the debate to being about the essence of the game. They argue the spirit of the game is to swing the club freely. By fixing the club to your body, it’s no longer a free swing.
The PGA Tour (pro players) and the PGA of America (teaching pros) are both opposed to the ban. There are murmurs that they could create their own set of rules if the USGA and R&A go forward with the ban. This would be a gigantic mess.
As convoluted as the rules of golf are, they’re uniform. The weekend hacker and Tiger Woods play by the same set of rules. (Or, they’re supposed to, anyway.)
If they created a new set of rules for regular PGA events, it would mean tour players with anchored putters couldn’t compete in the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. The Masters would probably also not allow anchored putters, since it would probably follow the new USGA/R&A rules.
That means three of the four major championships can’t have long putters. (The PGA Championship is run by the PGA of America, so it might allow anchored putting.)
Further, it would mean the PGA is going to wrest away control of the game’s rules and traditions from the USGA and R&A. The USGA and R&A are non-profit organisations who generally thinking about the good of the game. The PGA Tour is going to try to protect its players, and could make short term decisions that hurt the game in the long run.
If the USGA and R&A lose this battle, then they’re going to struggle for any other rule changes like altering equipment to reduce the insane distance pros are hitting the ball today.
A decision on the ban should be coming in the next few months. If it’s enacted, and most people seem to believe it will be, the ruling won’t take effect until 2016.
So, it’s possible we’ll have more belly putting wins until it’s banned. But, there’s a very good chance Scott will have an asterisk on his name as the only person to win the Masters with a putter affixed to his chest.
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